Are we now seeing through the veil of superiority the British state wraps around itself for protection? With every mistake, miscalculation and miscall the wrinkly old Union is like a stripper desperately covering up the naughty bits with only a scrap of chiffon left.
What once came over as all-powerful and all-knowing has broken down under a long campaign into a shambolic embarrassing mess. There are signs every day now of the failure of the establishment to remain calm and to reassure. As each corner falls off, the credibility of the institutions and people in whom we invested faith, willingly or otherwise, evaporates and with it, electoral support.
In 24 hours we’ve had the once-mighty and sure-footed BBC stumble and crash into the undergrowth over CBI membership, the barefaced opportunism of the Labour shadow cabinet day-tripping to Scotland and one of its London stars, Yvette Cooper (born in Inverness, you see) clearly lost in a strange land on STV.
It’s as if the pressure is beginning to tell and one after another, the old certainties disappear below the water line. Trust the BBC? Well, would you? Labour is full of Scottish talent? Is it? Westminster politicians are better than ours? Really?
The slow death of the CBI is another case-in-point. It was once an unassailable voice of business but also of something more, a kind of boardroom freemasonry where smooth-talking gents met with ministers behind closed doors, like in the gentlemen’s club. I remember spending time with Lord King, the boss of British airways on a visit to Glasgow and noticing the detail of his rich suit, his manicured hair, the expensive perfume and the plummy voice. He was other-wordly compared to the workers, the journalists and even his other staff…he was a cut above and carried an air of casual sang-froid. I was impressed. He was ‘Mrs Thatcher’s favourite businessman’, a privatiser, who stooped to dirty tricks against Virgin in the classic mould of the cut-throat capitalist unable to deal with the very competition he preached. Naturally he rode to hounds and I love the bit in Wikipedia where it says: King kept a flat in London for many years, in Eaton Square, and during his time running British Airways he lived there during the week full-time. At weekends, he travelled north to his country estate, Friars Well Estate, near Melton Mowbray in the county of Leicestershire. He also had a house in Scotland, close to the River Naver, where he pursued his love of fly fishing.
You can see why the public service broadcaster would want to be part of that, can’t you? Makes perfect sense to me.
These are glimpses into another Britain, the same one that pays Alistair Darling £10,000 to make a speech – Jim Naughtie too, by the way – and brings together Brian Wilson with Ian Taylor of Vitol. It is an exalted, secretive community far removed from the lives of ordinary Scots in which quiet words are exchange, understandings reached and pockets lined.
The CBI used to coordinate some of its public utterances with the Conservatives and when reporters like me pointed it out, they’d huff and insist they were strictly independent. Well, they can never say that again in Scotland. That lie is finally nailed and nailed for good. The CBI represents Britain’s business interests in Scotland and that’s why if Ian Macmillan survives this fiasco with his job – and I wish him no ill-will personally, he’s a good bloke – he can never again be seconded on to public bodies and quangos without a public declaration that he will be neutral – which no one will believe.
The BBC’s relentless and hapless decline into national ridicule continues. Just ask yourself what you would have done. In the current situation in Scotland it was untenable for a national broadcaster to be in membership any way. When it became controversial, the need for an immediate and decisive resignation was paramount. Then you’re off and free. Yet at every turn the bungled the simplest of jobs.
Resign – do not ‘suspend membership in agreement with the CBI’. Get out.
Do it immediately otherwise your programmes are going out while you remain in an organisation affiliated to a campaign, defeating the BBC’s own editorial guidelines.
It also implies you are funding a campaign group (with licence payers money).
Nobody believes it if you only come out for the strict duration of the pre-vote period of editorial balance. It looks like you’re only doing it because technically you have to, but you’d rather not and you’re going straight back in any way.
Surely the European elections are coming up next month and despite the need for strict neutrality, you will still be in a politically-committed campaign group throughout that period.
This is terrible, BBC. On top of the damage already done to the reputation of the organisation, this is the latest hopeless mess hot on the back of the John Robertson cock-up.
So obsessed is the BBC with perception of its neutrality that when I was contacted by a journalist about assisted suicide following the death of my wife and I sought management permission to be interviewed, it was declined. I was told I couldn’t express any views on such a matter as it would lead to a perception of personal bias and despite my passion for the issue, the BBC’s reputation was more important. Where is that desire for public perception today? There is only one perception – of an out-of-touch, partial, pro-British institution keen to play footsie with big business rather than do its duty by the Scots.
The perception of the British state as clever, powerful and beneficial is crumbling before our eyes, just in time for Scots to realise the truth in September.